On April 2, 2013, the Associated Press announced amendments to its style book, effectively banning the use of the word “illegal” to describe a person as in “an illegal immigrant.” This announcement was followed by similar pronouncements from other news sources, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Denver Post.

Why should a useful and descriptive word be banished? My Webster’s dictionary defines “illegal” as “not according to or authorized by law” and also “not sanctioned by official rules.” Black’s Law Dictionary, which is commonly used by lawyers and law students, actually defines an “illegal alien” as “An alien who enters a country at the wrong time or place, eludes an examination by officials, obtains entry by fraud, or enters into a sham marriage to evade immigration laws.”

I regard these actions to banish “illegal” as a concerted effort to blur the distinction between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, as if their immigration status and U.S. immigration law shouldn’t matter at all. I see these actions as in direct support of the on-going effort to enact an amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, and to prevent the application of current U.S immigration law to them.

Perhaps encouraged by the successful banishment of the word “illegal” immigration lawyer Careen Shannon says we should also stop using the word “alien” to describe foreigners because that term is now associated with extraterrestrial aliens in science fiction literature and movies. Like provincial Americans might actually think foreigners in the U.S. come from other planets?

“Alien” is another useful and descriptive word that we should not abandon in pursuit of political correctness. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “alien” as “A person who is not a citizen of a given country; a person not owing allegiance to a particular nation.”

The current immigration statute of the United States expressly defines “alien” as meaning “any person not a citizen or national of the United States.” The statute contains hundreds of references to “alien”, so banishing the term from our law would be a major undertaking. We can’t just substitute “non-citizen” for “alien” because there are non-citizen nationals of the United States, like the residents of American Samoa, who are neither citizens nor aliens.

Careen Shannon concludes, “Let’s just call them people.” Hey, if we’re all just people without distinctions, who needs immigration laws?

Finally, the supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S., like Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, insist that we shouldn’t call his proposal “amnesty,” because, “Amnesty is the forgiveness of something.” His bill is instead “comprehensive immigration reform” and “a pathway to citizenship” for the illegal. Right.

The last time the U.S. enacted a big amnesty for illegal aliens in the U.S., in 1986, Sen. Rubio was a teenager in high school. At that time, everyone including the sponsors called it what it was, an amnesty. Black’s Law Dictionary actually gives as an example for “amnesty”: “The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act provided amnesty for undocumented aliens already present in the country.”

Because the 1986 amnesty encouraged much greater illegal immigration to the U.S., causing the current demand for an even bigger amnesty, the current sponsors would prefer to somehow distinguish their proposal from the 1986 amnesty. But the current proposal is substantively indistinguishable from the 1986 amnesty, and certainly does provide “forgiveness of something.”

The proponents and supporters of amnesty and increased immigration to the U.S. are trying to prevent the use of common descriptive terms to describe the substance of their proposal. If the American people understand the substance of so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” they will prevent their representatives in Congress from enacting it into law.

Jan Ting is a Professor of Law at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law and a former Assistant Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum and Parole, Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Department of Justice. Jan can be reached at janting@temple.edu.

(22) comments


Since the Rio Grande is mostly dry now, I suppose there is no need for the term "wet back" any more either.
Still, a spade is a spade. The bell has been rung. The horse is out of the barn. etc. etc.
Political correctness has run amok.


666 - I never mentioned race either, and I never stated that illegal alien is or isn't a problem term. In fact, I don't see how any of your response directed to me actually replies to any of my comments. Did you understand what I wrote?


@ Brightside: What ever happened to taking responsibility for one's own actions? Is the USA to blame for "splitting up" a family, or is the CRIMINAL that committed the crime to blame? It's a real simple, logical answer, unless you wish to delude yourself. Besides, they have the CHOICE to remain together, or not. Every ILLEGAL ALIEN HAD a CHOICE! They chose to IGNORE OUR LAWS? You want fairness? Then ALL LAWBREAKERS, regardless of the law, needs to be given amnesty! Are you willing to support that?


First, Jan Ting hit the nail right on the head! Second, since it's clear he's not "white", I've noticed a lack of "He's a racist" comments from ILLEGAL ALIEN supporters (or Foreign National Invaders, you choose).

@openureyes: If the term "Illegal Alien" isn't a problem term, then why seek to change it? It is an accurate description of said persons. NOWHERE is race mentioned! If it was, then I'd be against such a term. However, I've read from SEVERAL LEGAL IMMIGRANTS that are angered by the FACT that ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS are given a pass, and have not EARNED THE RIGHT to be here. Tell me open, do you like "line cutters"? Do you like seeing a coworker get a job or promotion they don't deserve? Have you checked to see what group of people get the lion's share of LEGAL IMMIGRATION? I have. You want things to be fair? It's MORE than fair, there has to be a point where it ends.


Notwithstanding sockratties's excellent comment, my point was not who is or is not a job creator, nor was it who is or is not an illegal alien. It was that changing what you call them doesn't change what they are. If all it takes is changing how we refer to someone/something to change your position in regards to it, then your position wasn't very well grounded to begin with. So I don't see how Professor Ting's argument that "banning" these words undermines immigration reform holds up.


VoR... although it's off topic... one answer to your question:

Job creation is a result of commerce. Commerce is buying and selling of goods and services in exchange for funds. Selling fulfills that demand and in turn creates demand for a replacement product or service. The performance of that service or creation of a replacement product creates a job.

The poor have too few funds to demand many goods or services and tend to go without. The rich are a small community that does not require the goods and services required to put a dent in unemployment statistics.

Jobs are created by demand from the middle class; those who make anywhere from $50K to $250K per household. They have enough to get by plus some for discretionary spending. They buy new cars, appliances, medical plans, costs of child rearing, education and are probably buying a home. They shop at local grocery stores and buy fuel at local service stations. They spend on entertainment, media, clothes and travel and recreation. This spending, in turn, supports demand for goods and services provided by others who also support other jobs.

While financial institutions are in the business of financing small business start-ups and expansions, and in doing so support job creation, many of the wall street wheeler-dealers move money around without creating a dime's worth of new wealth. These shell games siphon off commissions, profits and golden exit parachutes without ever financing anyone. They use middle class savings and investments to sell loans and paper at inflated rates and when the collector comes there's nothing of value to collect.

That's where the wealth that belonged to the middle class in '08 went. The rich got richer and the median income of the middle class dropped as they were sheared like sheep by financial tricksters. The shrinking wealth of the middle class reduced demand and that's where the jobs went. Jobs are created by the middle class. Without them you only have the haves and the have-nots, much like in the middle ages.


Please elaborate then. If the wealthy are not the job creators- who is/are? We know it isn't poor people? So who?

Leon Ceniceros






Sarcastically missing the point still counts as missing the point, VofReason. Congratulations.


Right open, everyone knows it is poor people who are the job creators- right? And thanks MrB for setting me straight. That Mexico sure is a warm fuzzy place. This is why people risk their life to cross a desert to get here. Right?


So, how is this undermining immigration reform?

Seems to me it's no different than referring to the wealthy as "job creators" to make keeping their tax rates low more palatable.



They do encourage and respect, atleast a majority of people I've known. It usually comes down to the pocket book though.


I am always amazed when I hear the immigration debate turned into a suggestion that the USA doesn't encourage or respect immigrants- legel immigrants. The fact is, there is a process to become a legal immigrant and people do it everyday. The problem is those who try to walk around the process and come illegally. If you don't like the legal process, change it. Don't ask that we look the other way to those who don't follow it. Ask Mexico what it means to enforce immigration law.


Before we start damning the leper for his leprosy let’s not forget that the latest influx of immigrants from Mexico is largely an effect of NAFTA. The North American Fair Trade Agreement enabled corporations in Mexico, who are mostly the same corporations as here in the U.S., to grow and export foodstuffs to the United States and compete with our farmers in the Great Plains states. This corporate farming has displaced and stolen the livelihood of thousands of Mom/Pop farmers who used to get by selling and bartering the goods they could grow on family farms.

This is the same effect that the demand for lean beef required by American fast food chains caused in Central America, displacing small farms with huge cattle corporations. Those farmers often became guerilla soldiers and the disruption created a firm footing for the drug cartels we still endure.

Many of those crossing our borders would still be farming in Mexico if they had farms. American demand for ethanol and Mexican grown produce is responsible for a major part of the problem. Think of that the next time you start your car, order a burger or buy that cheaper head of imported lettuce.


Everything you said there was factual and quite eloquent for a lawyer.

I will play devil's advocate for the sake.

"Because the 1986 amnesty encouraged much greater illegal immigration to the U.S., causing the current demand for an even bigger amnesty"

I'm pretty sure a law put forward in the USA wasn't a reason for the influx in illegal immigration, it was the incentive of a better life style, economic status or drug trade that was increasing 10-fold.

On that note, the USA is a leader for immigrants allowing the pursuit of happiness that serves all. Even if the lower echelons are not able to reach the mid-higher class. They are still meeting a living standard higher than their birth countries.

Our neighbors to the south shouldn't be regarded in such a bad light they should be upheld as a family in this continent we call home.

I believe the drug trade alone has decimated a lot of those places and would make anyone desperate to leave, using the skills they've learned to form a better lifestyle in a country that offers everything to its citizens, even if they aren't naturalized.

The immigration problem really is a tough one, if you look at history, immigration is what made this country what it is today. Is California/Arizona the new Ellis Island?

I know we can debate that forever but there has to be a sensible solution that doesn't involve deporting a father who has kids in the USA.


the word "Alien" is a very beautiful and ancient word derived from Latin. It is our duty to teach the correct use of this word to our children so they can speak and understand their mother tongue, read the holy Bible and learn from the great works of literature, history and science. The lawless supporters of illegal immigration would destroy our cultural memory and all that is beautiful just to obtain their goals. Imagine the philistine intellect of a person who would attack an ancient word that our ancestors have preserved and nurtured over the centuries. What is more important, the english language or amnesty of a few million illegal foreigners who want to jump the waiting line and obtain citizenship by a shortcut. It is Orwellian.


Well stated, professor Ting. If you do not like what your critics are saying, forbid them from saying it.

The left takes this strategy from the Book '1984'. Newspeak is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a reduced language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit free thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, peace, etc. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as "thoughtcrime."

see NumbersUSA, Fair.org, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Heritage.org for additional information on the impact and TRILLIONs of DOLLARs of cost on the United States.


Finally someone who's not afraid to speak the realities about illegal immigration. Expect lawsuits from La Raza and the ACLU forthcoming!

No amnesty for foreign invaders!


President Obama has preempted criticism of the immigration blueprint . . . as he again urged Congress to pass the landmark immigration reform. But the immigration bill’s path forward remains murky on Capitol Hill, as the Senate has scheduled a cloture vote on the bill for Tuesday.

In the next few months, Americans should have a better idea of whether millions of illegal immigrants will get an eventual pathway to citizenship. But first, there's an 844-page bill to go through the Senate and the House.


A few seconds of googling will find examples of every major news organization using the term "legal immigrant". Will they next ban the word "hypocritical"?

Maybe they should ban "newspeak" before the backlash can begin.

Arizona Willie

At last. At last.At last.

An intelligent QUALIFIED person who is very knowledgeable in the field of immigration speaks out and TELLS THE TRUTH.

And, he's a person of color, so the anti-American pro-invader people can't scream that he's a racist.

Mr. Ting, laid it out like it is ... showing the media culpability in allowing waves of invading aliens to overwhelm our country.

Thank you Mr. Ting. I wish there were another million Americans of influence like you to stand up for AMERICANS.


Any proposed reform that does not include mandatory jail terms for employers of illegal aliens will be a complete failure just as the '86 Amnesty was a failure.

The proposed 'path to citizenship' will guarantee that millions of law abiding legal families remain unemployed and in poverty.

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